Organizational Tips for Traveling Teachers

Here are some ideas and encouragement for traveling teachers.

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If you are a traveling teacher, you understand stress and pressure like no one else. Teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there, and teaching in more than one location just heightens the difficulty of the job. It may not be an ideal situation, but there are tricks and tools you can use to make it a little easier.


Tip 1: Pick a “Home Base”

Humans naturally need a place that feels their own. When you are a traveling teacher, you must choose somewhere to keep your things and treat as your home base. This place should be somewhere you don’t have to share, even if it’s only a shelf in a closet. Even better if you get a whole desk or classroom all to yourself. Your home base is where you will keep your main teaching materials, make and receive phone calls, keep that extra sweater or pair of shoes, and attend staff meetings. It’s important that you feel included as a staff member in one of your buildings. Include yourself by assuming that staff messages, meetings, and initiatives at your home base all apply to you. Ask for your own phone. Or, ask the other teacher in the room if you can have that extension for receiving voice mails and placing calls. You need to have one phone number where people can leave a message and know you will receive it.


Tip 2: Know Your Rights

I am extremely grateful to live in a district with a strong teacher’s union. They promise traveling teachers a minimum of 30 minutes travel time. There have been occasions where a teacher was only given 25 minutes of travel time, and the local union reps worked with that teacher and the administrators to fix the problem. I also get reimbursed for the mileage I am required to drive between buildings. It is important that we know and defend our rights, because over-working and over-stressing yourself on an already¬†stressful job helps no one.

Tip 3: Have a Travel Bag

When I asked other teachers for their advice for this article, the most frequent suggestion I heard was to have a dedicated travel bag. This bag carries all the things you have to have with you at all times, such as your laptop, charging cables, seating charts, mileage reimbursement forms, etc.

pouch with cables

Cable carrier

Pamela B. from Minnesota suggested using a sturdy backpack with padded straps to ease the pressure on your back and shoulders. She also showed me a great idea: wrap all those little cables and cords in twist ties, cable wraps, or ponytail elastics, and store them all in one little pouch (photo above). Your charging cables, earbuds, and adapters stay organized and you always know where they are. Extra benefit: you always have an extra ponytail elastic in case of a bad hair day. ūüôā

Thirty One Bag

Top: “Fold-n-File” by Thirty-One. Bottom: “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” by Thirty-One (with Fold-n-File inside)

Kelly K. from Wisconsin said she can’t live without her organizational bag from Thirty-One. She uses the “Fold-n-File” insert to hold all of her hanging files and file folders. It has sturdy walls and handles. It even has pockets on the outside for her markers and calculator. That fits inside her “Zip-Top Organizing Utility Tote” which can zip closed to protect files from rain and snow, has shoulder straps, and has extra pockets around the outside for pencil pouches, tuning forks, and spare recorder.

You will read below that I use digital seating charts. However, that doesn’t help when you have a substitute. I print off a full set of seating charts for all of my classes, from both schools, and have a copy at both schools. (Yes, I print seating charts for one school and keep them at the other school.) This way, there will always be an extra set available whether a substitute brings or doesn’t bring them when traveling between schools.

My final piece of advice for your travel bag is to update your mileage reimbursement form EVERY time you travel. I put it in the front of my travel folder, even in front of my seating charts, so I am guaranteed to see it. I make sure to fill it out before I go home for the day. It never fails: every time I try to remember mileage I didn’t write down, I remember it wrong. WRITE IT DOWN.

Tip 5: Digitize

Being¬†“transportable” is SO EASY with digital lessons. I unplug my laptop at one school, slide it in my bag, and open it up at the next school. My lesson plans, seating charts, behavior management, recordings, and lesson files are all there on the screen.

EXTENDED DISPLAY (1)I use what’s called “extended display” (a setting on my computer), so what the students see is different than what I see. I can have my lesson plan on the computer screen and¬†the visuals or behavior management system projected for the class (see photo above). The only things I carry with me, then, are the items that one school owns¬†and the other doesn’t.¬†So far this year, I’ve only had to carry a train whistle and some beanie babies. THAT’S IT.

Here’s my setup:
Computer: Apple MacBook Pro
Interactive White Board: SMART Board
Speakers: Ceiling-mounted
Recordings: iTunes
Lesson plans:
Seating charts: SMART Notebook file
Behavior management: “Scoreboard” SMART Notebook file
Visuals/Manipulatives: self-created SMART Notebook or Powerpoint files
Sheet music/notation:

I hope these tips have given you some ideas for ways to become more organized or just given you encouragement that you are on the right track. What is your best organizational strategy? Comment below!

Classroom Management for Music Teachers

Classroom management in the music room is based on building relationships, giving positive feedback, and seeing a student as a whole person. Read to the end for book recommendations.

How do you begin?

The most important thing is to establish good relationships with your students as well as establish consistent rules and procedures from the first day they see you. Decide what these will be ahead of time. Can’t narrow it down to 3-5 rules as recommended? See my blog post on music classroom rules.


You do not want this.

Prevent problems before they start.

Positive reinforcement means rewarding the behavior you want to see repeated. Rewards in my classroom come in the form of praise, helping the teacher, getting a turn, playing with “toys” (instruments, props, stuffed animals, etc.), and anything else I can think of that a student might like.¬†You have to be creative in your positive reinforcement so you can reach every child. They say¬†an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and it is really true. Prevention is 90% of my classroom management.

What happens if the rules are broken?

Honestly, not much.¬†I’m not saying I don’t enforce the rules…stay with me as I explain. The number one best most important method of getting kids to follow the rules is¬†getting them to like you. Not in the friendly, chummy, bribey way where they expect candy for remembering to raise their hand. But if a child genuinely likes you and respects you, he or she will want to please you. Ninety percent of the time, a raised eyebrow, eye contact, or close proximity to the child will bring him or her around. This is why developing relationships with students is so important: that relationship can save you a lot of work in behavior management later on.

Okay, but I still have problem behaviors…

For the behaviors that continue, I seek an alternative. Each behavior has a reason. Maybe the kid behind him is poking him. Maybe she didn’t get enough sleep last night. Maybe his thoughts are elsewhere because he is experiencing stress or trauma at home. I’ll think of something creative, such as letting the child sit somewhere else. I’ve offered to send students to the nurse to take a nap. I’ve let kids hide a pencil in the music room when they consistently forget to bring their own. If I know the child well and she isn’t distracting others, I may just let it go, knowing she just needs a supportive environment and she’ll come around another day. Another big one is giving the child a responsibility. I’ve never met a child that didn’t want to feel special in some way (no matter how much they pretend to resent it :).

Parent Contact (Or, “How to Put on a Happy Face and Spin Even the Most Negative Incident into a Positive Communication”)

My building administration supports parent contact¬†through notes or phone calls. If I do send a note, I word it in a very positive way. For example, “Hi! Jill is working on sitting still during music class. Can you please¬†help her with¬†this? I love hearing her sing and look forward to seeing her again on Tuesday!” Phone calls are better because the parent can hear the tone of your voice. Conversations must be positive and collaborative, and you must always approach the parent as if he or she is already on your side and the two of you are working together as a team. Notes and phone calls are logistically difficult for music teachers because we have hundreds of students. But, we see the same students for five or more years, so there is time to develop those positive relationships with parents. A good piece of advice I received is, “Your first contact with a parent should be positive.” So, in the fall, when you begin to sense who those difficult students are, find something good to call the parent about. Make the call before the child has a chance to warrant a “bad” call. When you do end up having to call the parent about a more difficult situation, he or she will be more receptive to you because you already established a positive tone to your relationship.

When a Student Needs to Leave the Room

If a behavior¬†is extremely distracting, dangerous, or disrespectful, the child may need to leave the room. In these 3% or less instances, I may send a child¬†to the office. I may allow him or her¬†to take a break if there is a special ed room, resource room, or paraprofessional available for that child. If the child does not have¬†an IEP, a break can come in the form of getting a drink, going to the bathroom, or just sitting in the hallway. When asking the child to leave, I word it so the child understands I am on his or her side. For example, “Robert, I can see that you’re having a hard time right now. Would it be helpful for you to go take a walk to clear your mind? You can come back in when you are ready.” In these cases, I ALWAYS seek out the child later that day to discuss what happened. It is essential that the child gets to share his or her side of the story after calming down and to see that you care about them. This has the added benefit of allowing the child to “save face” by not having this conversation in front of their peers.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Good classroom management may be invisible, but it is definitely there.

Developing your Tool Box (or “Bag of Tricks”)

The most important tool in your discipline tool box is relationships. Developing positive relationships with students and parents early on is essential and will prevent many problems in the future. The second most important tool is positive reinforcement. Acknowledge anything good that you see, and you’ll begin to see more of it. The third most important tool is an open mind. Instead of seeing a disruptive child as naughty, choose to see him or her as someone who¬†needs your help and compassion. Once you get to know your students, and they know that you care for them, classroom management will become much easier and smoother. But, even the most experienced teachers who look like they have their classes all together will still acknowledge that classroom management is 80% of what they do. ūüôā

Any favorite books or systems for classroom management? Leave a comment below with your favorites! Here are some of mine:
Teaching with Love and Logic by Jim Fay and David Funk
Whole Brain Teaching by Chris Biffle
Winning Over Your Toughest Music Class by Ben Stiefel
Dealing With Difficult Parents and with Parents in Difficult Situations by Todd Whitaker and Douglas J. Fiore

Music Rules

In my music room, there are three main rules with 4-5 specific bullet points under each.

How many rules should I have?

Many sources say the perfect number of rules is short, between three and five. Lumping all your expectations into three rules means the rules must be vague and open to interpretation. However, practice tells us that kids need to know the specific, concrete expectations they are being held to. My solution was to have three “main” rules with descriptive bullet points under each.

Music Rule #1: Be a LearnerMusic Rule #1: Be a Learner

We are at school to learn. Learning is a lifelong sport and the most important thing you will do here. These behaviors help prepare your brain to learn. In order to learn in this room, you must:

  • Sit in your spot
  • Face forward
  • Pay attention
  • Raise hand to talk
  • Always¬†try

I give a little one- or two-sentence description of each bullet point and what it means. We practice the bullet points as we go.¬†I scan the room to make sure they are following the rules. If anyone breaks or forgets, I go back to the beginning and start over. This sets up the expectation that rules are to be followed and you will enforce it if they’re not.

At this point, I don’t mention consequences.¬†Most students don’t need to know what the consequences are; they are motivated to follow the rules simply because they want to be good and earn approval. The students who do need to know the consequences in advance tend to be the ones who will test the rules to see if you are really going to apply those consequences. (And you better apply those consequences!)

Slide2Music Rule #2: Respect Others

This means you have to be nice to other people and their property: classmates, teachers, building staff, school property.

  • Be nice
  • Listen to the speaker
  • Use positive words
  • Keep hands and feet to yourself
  • Allow others to learn

I explain that “the speaker” means the person who is talking, not a device that is amplifying¬†music! It is hard to explain what “positive words” means, but I always give examples of what negativity looks and sounds like: whining, not trying, saying “this is dumb,” or the worst, “I can’t.” We also discuss how following Rule #2 allows others to follow Rule #1.

Slide3Music Rule #3: Be a Musician

This is the third rule because it’s the third most important. After you have readied your mind to learn and shown respect to others, then you are ready to participate in music.

  • Take care of instruments
  • Only play¬†what…
  • …and¬†when you’re supposed to
  • When music plays: sing or listen
  • Participate in the activity

I explain that when music plays, I will usually tell them if they’re supposed to be singing or listening. They rarely have a choice between the two. However, talking is definitely not an option. The final bullet point is one that is very close to my heart. I don’t care how good you are, I care how hard you try. After all, you can never learn to shoot a basket if you don’t pick up a basketball. You can never learn to read if you don’t touch a book. And you’ll never learn music if you don’t try. If a student has a really stinky attitude, I resort to “yes, you have to do this.” But most of the time a simple reminder that participation and effort are the expectation is enough.

How should I teach the rules?

Each fall, I go over the rules with each class so they know what the rules are. The older kids already know me and my expectations so this goes very quickly, usually less than five minutes at the beginning of the first class. For the middle grades (1-3), I have student volunteers demonstrate the wrong and the right way to perform each expectation. For the very young (pre-K and K), I just read the rules and bullet points slowly, demonstrate them myself, and scan the room to make sure the kids are following them.

Later in the year, the rules are revisited only as needed. I’ve found that Kindergarten typically needs a “rules day” two more times during the year. Pre-K usually doesn’t need reminders of the rules because reinforcement and rewards are naturally built into every activity we do. For older grades, I may simply state the name of the rule (“Donovan, be a learner”) or point to the poster.

Thanks for reading! What rule is the most important to you? Answer in the comments below!

Note: The content in this article is copyrighted. Please visit for your own digital copy of Mrs. Martin’s Music Room Music Rules Posters.